Practicing yoga and exercising have science-backed benefits to our general wellbeing. In his book The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel van der Kolk, who is one of the best experts on traumatic stress, states that multiple studies have shown that practicing yoga is beneficial for the traumatized mind and body. Research has demonstrated that people who have incorporated yoga into their routine increased flexibility and strength and improved their breathing, heart health, balance, sleeping and eating habits, and quality of life. Studies have also shown that yoga can lower the levels of stress, anxiety, fatigue, inflammation, chronic pain, and depression by helping the body and mind reduce the production of cortisol, the stress hormone, according to Rachael Link’s article 13 Benefits of Yoga that are Supported by Science.
Exercising doesn’t need an elaborated scientific argument to make a case for the abundant benefits of keeping oneself active. Whether one walks, runs, jogs, swims, lift weights, stretches, or plays a sport for two hours or 15 minutes several times a week, the benefits are there: increased energy, better sleep, improved heart and brain health, strengthened muscles and bones, and weight loss. In her article The Top 10 Benefits of Regular Exercise, Arlene Semeco lists these and more science-backed benefits of exercising, all of which contribute to a sense of happiness.
Yoga doesn’t resonate with me, though. I attended yoga sessions in two different opportunities, and I failed to position and stretch my body as expected on both occasions. The social discomfort and shame I experienced have prevented me from trying yoga again – although my ego keeps blaming my injured back.
Benefits of Dancing
I’m not a fan of spending hours in the gym every week either. But I love dancing. Dancing moves my body, mind, and soul. Dancing is more fun than exercising, and it keeps me in good physical shape. Dancing has the particular advantage of improving both our sociability and overall health, says Jen Export in her article 50 Amazing Benefits of Dancing, According to Science. Export points to the research that has demonstrated that dancing reduces stress, depressive moods, anxiety, and the risk of osteoporosis; improves strength, muscle tone, and the condition of heart and lungs; increases flexibility, agility, and endurance; and makes people smarter and better coordinated. Dancing is a fun and social exercise that promotes a good mood and a sense of wellbeing at any age.
Dancing comes naturally to me. It’s an integral part of Latin culture. Children learn to dance by watching their parents and neighbors. In this culture, dancing is so embedded in a child’s development that there’s no need for dancing lessons to dance. Mind and body connect with the music, naturally forming unity. There’s neither synchronicity nor uniformity. There’s no ugly dancing either, as long as the dancer follows the rhythm.
Dancing fosters connection with:
Oneself, when we dance alone at home or participate in a Zumba class trying to sweat away some extra pounds.
Others, as we openly enjoy the music and environments we like.
Community, as we engage or create with others a place akin to our preferences.
Dancing helps us letting our preoccupied self go into a pleasant place. That’s why most people smile while dancing, even when they don’t know their dancing partners.
Dancing to me is both a mental escapade and an excellent workout. It takes me to a pleasant place where I can release my mental and physical stress. I can feel my body lighter and taller. I smile and keep smiling as my body and mind move with the music. Time flies as I dance. At home, I pick my five-pound weights in each hand and dance at the rhythm of Latin music for 20 minutes. It’s more fun than walking, jogging, or running. But don’t get me wrong. I do walk, jog, and run also. I especially like hiking in quiet places; it helps me connect with God and myself.
I confess, however, that I struggle in dancing classes. Since the type of music playing predetermines the steps or choreography to follow, it’s like my mind and body resist such imposition and want to break free to follow the rhythm of the music. Thus, my constant stumbling in dancing classes may give the impression that I have two left feet.
Peter Levine introduced the concept of somatic experiencing to create awareness about the importance of paying attention to what the body feels and tells. Because of traumatic events or circumstances of prolonged abuse, some people get subjectively disconnected from their bodies. They’d suppress or numb their emotional selves to avoid the emotional pain of their memories or circumstances. Yoga, exercising, and dancing can help people connect with their bodies by growing awareness of their bodies’ movements and sensations.
The sense of inhabiting one’s own body is critical to one’s mental and physical wellbeing. Connect with a trauma therapist if you believe you’re having problems experiencing it.